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Fly Right

1 Sep

A Thought on Torn Advertising Taken Far or Grand Adventures in a New Economy

It is good to have hope, that thing with feathers, as the poet said, and it’s best when it comes as a surprise. Biking down Nicollet back when summer seemed new and endless, before word came down that some Twin Cities cultural hubs were losing their spaces, it was good to see the reappearance of a certain flock of hopeful and forward looking birds, the quickly sketched but effortlessly floating marker work of Aaron Bickner and Andrew Shannon. The flying pigeons, black ink on the whitewashed panels of the building at the southeast corner of Nic & 10th first appeared last summer as part of the supposedly temporary Save Canvas show organized by Overproof, a show using empty retail spaces and found materials.

Even though a year has now passed, the installations in the abandoned retail spaces never were taken down but the shop tableaux were never my favorite part of the project. The birds were just so much more immediate, offering up a simple vision of how to use urban, publicly visible space (a legal and philosophical distinction from public space) in a way that makes the city more livable. This winter, the wall was covered up by a bright-hued ad campaign to visit Montana, wisely chosen to show the verdant mountains and crystalline lakes of Montana in summer, because in winter, Montana makes International Falls look like sunny South Beach. The color, in winter, was a nice mental getaway, but that’s all it was- escapism. The birds were put there by people, artists and organizers and entrepreneurs who live in this city and care about it.

It was the right positioning, too- the building once was the physical home of Let It Be Records, now a mail-order entity and still has the advertising for the failed 10th & Nicollet luxury highrise that followed adorning the top of the window canopies. That corner, for the better part of the decade has stood for collapse and failure, a downtown reminder of the decline of independent retailers, the folly of inflated real estate markets and the ensuing recession. Save Canvas, it felt, was a defiant bird flipped to hard times. When we go broke, when the state of affairs, to cop Dessa’s verse from Low light/Low life, feels like “the flight of the salesman, the death of the bumblebee, nothing left for the attorneys and the tumbleweeds”, when the For Lease signs start becoming more apparent and longer lasting, it is good to have artists move in and take the chance.

Tonight was the last night for the Art of This space on South Nicollet, a space that has hosted a lot of adventuring and risk-taking over the last five years. As the excellently ambient and passionateTake Acre played the last installment of the Tuesday Night Music series in that space, David Petersen, director of the gallery, looked in from outside. He didn’t seem too worried- the music series is moving over to the Open Eye Figure Theatre and hopefully they can get some grant funding to help keep it running, but they have a good deal going for now. The space won’t sit empty- Jake Luck of Leisure Birds and GAYNGS is opening Yeti Records in the storefront on October 16th. A new salon, Honeycomb, has opened next door and word is that Kim Bartmann of Bryant-Lake Bowl, Barbette and the Red Stag has purchased Casey’s, the dive bar on the block. “What would we do here?” Petersen smiled, “We wouldn’t even fit in. We’d be the black sheep.” Plus, now he gets to make his own art, which is ultimately what artists should do, even if running the gallery has been it’s own form of sculptural installation. Not having a space is suddenly freeing again.

The Los Angeles Times Culture Monster blog also ran a story earlier in the year about the non-profit arts entities making big moves in L.A. Alexandra Grant, a member of the board of the Watts House Project had a quote that brings out the best of the times we live in. She said, “It’s such an exciting time for nonprofits. There’s an opportunity to think of these legal entities as a very creative space for people to organize. To think about the relationship between money and creativity and how they’re applied, and how a small nonprofit that’s on the ground can rethink some of the bigger, slow moving boats of culture.” In other words, let’s be birds in flight and not mud-stuck hippos. Local projects like Works Progress, Minneapolis Art on Wheels and even projects of the “slow moving boats of culture” like the Walker Art Center’s Open Field project show a collaborative, survivalist and innovative bent. Joseph Belk, who helped organize Save Canvas, teamed up with printers Burlesque of North America to launch CO Exhibitions. The Art Shanty Project may taking 2011 off, but if it is to better re-organize and re-energize it’s audience, it is for the right reasons. Bedlam Theatre may be losing it’s beloved brick-and-mortar space, but it is fighting on. In fact, they just announced they have a temporary new space to move into, so be there this Friday to blow it all out. Flocking together is what it is about.

Walking back down in the cool summer dusk when the birds first re-appeared on Nicollet, two kids, barely teenagers, had taken over the corner with a fuzzy boombox and, apropos of nothing and a box for tips, were voguing their hearts out to Gaga as bikers rolled past laughing. That’s the feel a city needs to survive- that we can own it’s private and publicly visible spaces, that artists are a critical part of a city’s well-being (a point well-made by’s Alan Berks in blog post titled “I Want Something More Than Money From Minneapolis”) and that life here matters. We all want something more and if we can be fearless enough to street-corner dance, to move our arts organization into the homeless unknown, to risk a new record store, we can have what we want and more. Like it said inside the front door of Art of This, a quote from the poet that is Kermit the Frog, “You are not going to watch the show, you are going to be in the show.” So join in and fly right.

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